21 Jul 2023
An Adelaide woman has been convicted and fined $1,200 for holding herself out as a pharmacist when she completed 10 shifts at two different Adelaide pharmacies in August 2021 without being registered.
Ms Olivia Nguyen pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Magistrates’ Court after being prosecuted by Ahpra for offences under the National Law.
Ms Nguyen had previously held provisional registration, which entitled her to work as an intern pharmacist. This registration ended in February 2021.
In May 2021, Ms Nguyen began employment at an Adelaide pharmacy as a dispense technician, which did not require registration with the Pharmacy Board of Australia (the Board). The employment was offered on the basis that once she had been granted general registration with the Board, she would work as a registered pharmacist within the chain of pharmacies.
At the time, Ms Nguyen was eligible to apply for general registration, but she did not make any application for registration until 13 July 2021. On 17 August 2021, Ms Nguyen told her employers that she had obtained registration, which was not true as a decision about her application had not yet been made. Based on this false claim, Ms Nguyen started employment as a registered pharmacist and completed 10 shifts between 18 and 29 August 2021.
Ms Nguyen’s employer asked her to provide evidence of her registration on 31 August 2021. She provided a copy of a letter purporting to be from Ahpra that stated she was registered. The letter was not genuine.
Several days later, after further enquiries by her employer (who could not find her listed on the public register) and discussions with Ahpra, Ms Nguyen admitted falsifying the letter and working as a registered pharmacist when she was not registered.
There is no suggestion that Ms Nguyen caused harm to any members of the public during the period she practised unregistered. She was granted general registration by the Board in March 2022 and continues to hold general registration as a pharmacist.
Ahpra and the Board work together to protect the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably qualified and fit to practise can claim to be registered or qualified to practise. Ahpra charged Ms Nguyen with holding herself out as being registered in breach of section 116 of the National Law.
Ms Nguyen pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and was sentenced in the Adelaide Magistrates’ Court of South Australia.
In sentencing Ms Nguyen, Magistrate White commented that Ms Nguyen ‘knew (she) was not registered but continued to hold (herself) out to (her) employer and the public … Protection of the community is the primary purpose’ of sentencing for this type of offence.
She commented further that the serious nature of this type of offending required a public declaration of wrongdoing and a record of conviction was needed.
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said anyone who falsely held themselves out to be a registered health practitioner faces a strong likelihood of prosecution.
Ahpra keeps a public register of every health practitioner who is registered to practise in Australia in the 16 health professions regulated under the National Law, including pharmacists.
‘Registration as a health practitioner gives the public confidence that the practitioner they are seeing is qualified and competent to provide health services. The public register provides up to date information on registration for both the public and employers,’ Mr Fletcher said.
Pharmacy Board Chair Brett Simmonds said: ‘This outcome sends a clear message about the importance of the professional obligation on all pharmacists to be registered. It also highlights that there are serious consequences for dishonesty and forging documents when applying for employment.
‘We urge pharmacy interns to ensure you renew your provisional registration if you are unable to meet the requirements for general registration before your registration lapses,’ he said.
Mr Simmonds said employers should not rely on copies of documents provided by employees about their registration. Employers should always check the online public register to verify the registration of their staff before they begin working, and regularly throughout employment to ensure they maintain their registration.
1 Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).